Designation Testimony

[email protected]: Designation Testimony – Sunset Park Historic Districts

Sunset Park 50th Street Historic District

Statement of the Historic Districts Council

Designation Hearing

May 7, 2019

LP – 2623

BOROUGH OF BROOKLYN

Sunset Park 50th Street Historic District

The Historic Districts Council is thrilled to speak in support of this and the other proposed historic districts in Sunset Park. As the commissioners may be aware, this hearing was a long time in coming. In the 1980’s, a group of neighbors banded together to sponsor a successful nomination, written by Andrew S. Dolkart, of a large swath of the neighborhood to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register district was, at that time, one of the largest in New York State.

While listing on the National Register is a fine thing, when it comes to protecting a neighborhood’s character, nothing substitutes for landmark designation. Small, incremental changes have eaten into this neighborhood’s intact historical architecture and are at risk of taking bigger bites. Recognizing the slow drip of entropy, the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee organized 6 years ago and did a masterful job of analyzing and mobilizing their neighborhood. We are proud to have worked closely with them for years to bring this matter to this hearing. As a happy by-product of their efforts in generating preservation activity in the area, thanks to the swift action of the Landmarks Commission, the only mansion in Sunset Park was recently saved from demolition. With preservation, it’s not only the friends you make along the way but the buildings you save while doing it.

Native and newly-arrived New Yorkers, many of whom were engaged in waterfront-dependent trades, settled in the area following transit development and the creation of the Bush Terminal. Somewhat unusual among residential Brooklyn historic districts, Sunset Park was developed for working- and middle-class families. The community is home to one of the city’s earliest and most extensive concentrations of two-family rowhouses, which allowed owners to take in renters to supplement their income. Though the area’s demographics have changed since the turn of the 20th century, Sunset Park has consistently been home to a large immigrant population, and remains defined by a mix of cultures, many of whom have arrived in successive waves. These newly-arrived New Yorkers have all made their mark on the neighborhood, establishing new businesses and institutions to meet their needs while largely leaving the built environment essentially intact.

The proposed Sunset Park 50th Street Historic District is a stand-out block in a neighborhood known for its lovely streets. Generally speaking, the Historic Districts Council prefers a broader brush when applying landmark designation to an area, but in this instance, the designation of a single block can be rationally justified. Given the consistent origin, development history, materials, designers and high level of integrity of this street, it definitely raises to the level of historic district consideration. Not to sound ungrateful but this block brings to mind other unprotected streets of similar quality in Southern Brooklyn, such as Senator Street in Bay Ridge. We know that LPC is looking at Bay Ridge and would recommend revisiting that block.

HDC is very appreciate that the Landmarks Preservation Commission is being very small “c” catholic in their consideration of the minor changes of stoop metalwork and the occasional entranceway awning. These are the smallest of small things which could be changed to a more historic look in the future or ignored without undue consternation until such time as they might need to be replaced.


Sunset Park North Historic District

Statement of the Historic Districts Council

Designation Hearing

May 7, 2019

LP – 2625

BOROUGH OF BROOKLYN

Sunset Park North Historic District

The proposed Sunset Park North Historic District is one of those wonderful things; an intact row of historic buildings facing a park. Among the Platonic notions of historic districts, this specific typology is one of the most quickly recognizable and for good reason. Architecture is the most public of arts and the city-building exercise of designing a cohesive row of building facing a public park is one of the clearest expressions of engaging public space possible. These buildings become a visual endpoint for the human experience of being in Sunset Park. They establish a terminus for the public space and a well-designed, rhythmic supportive wall for the outdoor room of the park. It works very well. In fact, with its cohesive streetscape, 44th Street functions even better as a background to the park than more famous park side blocks such as Central Park West or Prospect Park West in that those avenues have a much more varied appearance.


Sunset Park South Historic District

Statement of the Historic Districts Council

Designation Hearing

May 7, 2019

LP – 2622

BOROUGH OF BROOKLYN

Sunset Park South Historic District

The specific streets of the proposed Sunset Park South Historic District are especially lovely, consisting of rows of nicely-detailed rowhouses ranging from the relatively ornate to the pleasingly simple, all in a complementary styles, materials and colors. While there have been some unfortunate cosmetic alterations over the years, such as the loss of original stoop railings and ironwork and the insertion of above-door awnings (which could be thought of as a common vernacular mid-century alteration), the late-19th century character of these blocks shines through, clear and distinct.

While HDC is very pleased that this proposal is moving ahead, we must observe that is very unfortunate that the Landmarks Commission drew boundary lines to scrupulously avoid many of the multi-family dwellings in the area, especially along Fourth Avenue. These buildings are of a piece with the area’s history and likewise contribute to its sense of place. We worry that the massive developments along Fourth Avenue will continue southward and that these block fronts are not long for this world. Their erasure would mar the legibility of the area’s history and change its character, potentially leaving the protected mid-blocks as islands in a sea of high-rise modernity.


Central Sunset Park Historic District

Statement of the Historic Districts Council

Designation Hearing

May 7, 2019

LP – 2624

BOROUGH OF BROOKLYN

Central Sunset Park Historic District

The proposed Central Sunset Park Historic District is especially pleasing in that it includes a block frontage on Sixth Avenue. This allows a pedestrian to explore the entire historic district, small as it is, without leaving its boundaries. This kind of walking experience is one of the delights of the majority of New York’s historic districts; it allows a visitor to immerse themselves within an area without the peculiar discordance which comes from having to enter and leave a historic district multiple times to see the whole thing. HDC particularly appreciates the inclusion of the former Park United Presbyterian Church within the proposed district. Sunset Park is a large area with a broad history and by including this very handsome religious building, a number of layers are added to the history being told by this designation. Statement of the Historic Districts Council

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